The Joke’s On Us

October 30, 2013
BY Simone Ellin
A conversation with the creator of “Jewtopia”
Bryan Fogel (center), writer, director  and producer of “Jewtopia,” poses  with his acting team during filming. (Provided)

Bryan Fogel (center), writer, director
and producer of “Jewtopia,” poses
with his acting team during filming. (Provided)

Some have charged that “Jewtopia,” the new film written, directed and co-produced by Bryan Fogel, is chock full of negative stereotypes about Jews. To his critics, Fogel has pleaded guilty as charged.

“They are 100 percent right. That’s comedy.  The entire film is playing on stereotypes,” he said.

And the film doesn’t only stereotype Jews, Fogel pointed out. It stereotypes gentiles, too.

The romantic comedy, inspired by “Jewtopia,” the uber-successful play, which Fogel, 40, co-wrote and starred in, is about two childhood friends, Christian O’Connell (Ivan Sergei) and Adam Lipschitz (Joel David Moore). Christian (not the Jewish character incidentally) wants to marry a Jewish girl so “he never has to make another decision in his life,” while Adam (you guessed it — he’s the Jewish guy), who is engaged to a bossy, demanding Jewish woman (Jamie-Lynn Sigler), needs Christian’s help to maintain his sanity.

When Christian poses as a Jew named Avi Rosenberg to woo a rabbi’s daughter (Jennifer Love Hewitt), he asks Adam to show him how to be Jewish. Adam teaches Christian to use Yiddish words, drive waiters crazy in restaurants, eat lots of salmon, complain about his health and never to discuss power tools or guns with his prospective in-laws. Fortunately for Fogel, as a Jew, he can get away with the Jewish jokes and gets lots of laughs in the process.

Recently, the Baltimore Jewish Times caught up with Fogel to learn more about his life and work.

JT: When did you first become interested in a career in show business?
Fogel: It was in college at the University of Colorado Boulder. I was mostly interested in doing stand-up comedy and writing. After college, I moved to L.A. to look for work. It wasn’t going too well until “Jewtopia” came around.

“Jewtopia” began as a play. How did you come to write it?
It came out of a 10-minute scene about a Jewish singles mixer I wrote with my friend Sam Wolfson for a one-act play festival. People really seemed to like it so we decided to make it into a full-length play. It was really successful. The movie really came out of the success of the play, but it’s really different from the play. I’d say it isn’t so much adapted from the play as inspired by the play. It took six years to make.

You really assembled an all-star cast. What was it like to work with them?
That was really cool. It was my first movie, and I never expected to land that level of talent. We had Jennifer Love Hewitt, Rita Wilson, Jon Lovitz, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Tom Arnold, Nicollette Sheridan, Joel David Moore, Ivan Sergei, Wendie Malick, Camryn Manheim and Phil Rosenthal. … It was pretty exciting, awesome. They were great to work with.

When did the movie come out?
It was released on Sept. 20 in select theaters and On Demand. It’s really fun, a little crazy and over the top.

You starred in the play but didn’t act in the movie, right?
Yes, when the play first opened in L.A., I starred in it, and then it went to N.Y. and I must have performed it about 1,000 times. Originally, I planned to star in the movie, but I quickly realized I wasn’t right for the character. I didn’t want it to be a vanity project, and I never would have gotten the cast I did if I had starred in it. When you direct, you don’t get the glory of being in front of the camera, but I really enjoyed it. It’s like you’re captain of the ship. And since I was so close to the material, directing was the best way to see to it that my vision made it on screen.

How has it been received so far?
I’m told it is doing really well, especially On Demand.

What are you working on now that the film is done?
I’m working on a new play, it’s a one-man show, and I have two movie projects and a couple of ideas for TV.  One is animated. I’m trying to work on the content. I also do lots of
appearances at Jewish events — federation fundraisers, universities and schools.

Ever been to Baltimore?
Yes, actually. I have a funny, awful story about Baltimore. Do you remember about three years ago when there was a Nor’easter? They’d been talking about it for two weeks beforehand. I was supposed to be performing at the Hippodrome for several nights. The storm hit right then. It was terrible, we had sold 1,200 tickets, and something like half of those people canceled. It was just terrible timing. I’d love to come back to Baltimore to do a show. For me, I love when I’m able to bring my show and my humor to different cities and be involved in helping Jewish communities fund raise.

Your parents must be proud of you.
They’d be proud of me if I was a bank robber!

For more information about Bryan Fogel, visit bryanfogel.com. For more information about “Jewtopia,” visit jewtopiaworld.com.

Simone Ellin is JT senior features reporter
sellin@jewishtimes.com

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